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Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, the Minister has explained the matter very carefully. I think that I understand what he has said. May I take it that the clause heading will still apply if the amendment is accepted?

Lord Rooker: Yes, my Lords.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, while we are discussing the reasons for dispersal, will the Minister explain one matter? I read in the press that 25,000 empty houses across the country are rented by the
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Government for the purpose of housing asylum seekers. They are empty but are costing the public £100 million a year. They are still empty because, when they rented the houses, the Government omitted to include a get-out clause to enable them to escape from the commitment when they no longer wanted the houses. Will the Minister confirm that? If it is true, it would be the most extraordinary waste of public money, and are the Government trying to do anything about it?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I cannot answer the detailed point that the noble Baroness raised. If we had a large increase in the number of asylum seekers but not had accommodation available, we would have been rightly chastised. A degree of flexibility must be built into the system. I am not dismissing the costs that the noble Baroness quoted. Running the system costs more than £1 billion per year, which is the cost to the taxpayer. Some of those properties may have been held for a long time and rented on long-term contracts—which was the case when the national asylum support system started. As a result of dispersal and the potential collapse of social services in Kent, East Sussex and some of the London boroughs, there was a desperate need to spread asylum seekers around the country. Many emergency and quick-fix measures were taken, which the Government were duty bound to take, but I make no apology for that whatever.

I cannot comment on individual contracts, but there will always be empty properties simply because of the ebb and flow of the asylum list. The number of asylum applications has been cut in half and not every asylum seeker seeks accommodation. When a person claims asylum, we do not know whether he has accommodation in his community until he actually makes a claim. That is the reality. We cannot plan for what will happen when 70,000–80,000 asylum applications per year are being made. That figure has halved in the recent past so there is bound to be a surplus from time to time. I have given the noble Baroness a common-sense answer, without going into the detail of the 25,000 properties which she cited. It would not be possible for me to do that in any event.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 12 [Refugee: back-dating of benefits]:

Lord Rooker moved Amendment No. 5:

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving the amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 6, 7, 8 and 9. Clause 12 expressly revokes the regulations which set out the current backpayments system that was established in Section 123 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999. I am pleased to announce that Amendments Nos. 5, 6, 7 and 8 make additional minor consequential changes to the regulations on housing benefit and council tax benefit as a result of these changes. They are not matters of substance.

Amendment No. 9 deals with an earlier backpayments scheme established under Section 11(2) of the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996. It would
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revoke the regulations which preserve it for transitional purposes. Although the vast majority of claims for backpayments of income support are now made under the 1999 Act, to which I referred earlier, we want to ensure that the policy is applied consistently. Our policy is that backpayments will cease for all those who are recorded as refugees after the clause comes into effect, irrespective of when they made their claim for asylum; that is, irrespective of whether the application is covered by the 1999 Act or the 1996 Act. I beg to move.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, the amendments shed light on another example of the hasty and sloppy drafting of clauses in the Bill, particularly that of Clause 12, which repeals the backdating of benefits. References to benefits payable to refugees are buried in a whole warren of statutory instruments and the drafters of Clause 12 obviously picked up just some of them.

Section 123 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 allowed a person who was recorded as a refugee, and who had not been entitled to any of the benefits specified in Section 115 during the period when his claim for asylum was under consideration, to claim back payment of the amount of benefits of various kinds to which he would have been entitled but for the provisions of Section 115. The repeal of Section 123 makes it necessary to remove the references in the secondary legislation to the benefits treatment of refugees since, at the point they are recognised, they will be dealt with in the same way as a British citizen.

The two sets of regulations already amended by Clause 10, which are now to be further amended by Amendments Nos. 5 to 8, have been updated several times already. Although Google finds some of the previous amendments, in the public domain there does not seem to exist a consolidated version of either the Housing Benefit (General) Regulations or the Council Tax Benefit (General) Regulations. How on earth benefit practitioners, let alone claimants, manage to find out whether they have any entitlement under those labyrinthine instruments is impossible to imagine.

On a previous occasion, Lord Williams of Mostyn said that he was thinking of having a T-shirt printed that read:

It would be even better if the departments which pile regulations on regulations, year after year, were compelled to publish on their websites the Keeling schedules of the statutory instruments concerned that they no doubt produce for their internal use.

At least Amendment No. 9 refers to regulations made in 2000 which have not yet been amended, so one could begin to see what it meant before the Minister's explanation. Regulation 12(1) simply applies Regulation 12(2) to a person who claimed asylum before 2 April 2000 and was then successful. But Regulation 12(2) refers to the income support
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regulations, which are not available in consolidated form. We understand the logic of repealing the backdating, although we disagree with the Government's arithmetic; we shall come to that tomorrow evening. We can only hope, without much confidence, that the whole set of provisions in the clause that deals with backdating has finally been identified, and that others will not emerge after the Bill has left us and it is too late to deal with them.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I should say, on a point of principle, that I do not know the details of the regulations on housing benefit and council tax that get consolidated. However, I have always thought it most unfair that the only general annual consolidation of the legal arrangements was in tax Acts. It seems as though the whole system is geared up for tax practitioners and everyone concerned with that, but benefit lawyers and others assisting people in receipt of and claiming benefit do not get the consolidation that the tax lawyers get on a regular basis. What is more, that is not conducive to the good conduct of public administration. I have no policy to enunciate today about that, but in some ways I agree very much with what the noble Lord said.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Lord Rooker moved Amendments Nos. 6 to 9:

"(2A) Regulation 12(1) and (2) of the Social Security (Immigration and Asylum) Consequential Amendments Regulations 2000 (S.I. 2000/636) (which save for transitional purposes the effect of provision made for back-payment of benefits for refugees under section 11(2) of the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996 (c. 49)) shall cease to have effect."

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 13 [Integration loan for refugees]:

Baroness Anelay of St Johns moved Amendment No. 10:

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